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Lectio continua – a hiding place for the spiritually arid?

The great majority of my preaching has been lectio continua - that is, preaching through books: chapter by chapter, verse by verse.  The sort of churches I've attended and worked in have always preached in this way.  And I see a thousand benefits to it.

But, just thinking aloud here... I wonder what would happen if a law was passed banning lectio continua.  What if we just weren't allowed to fill our preaching programmes with Exodus 1-20 then Philippians then Matthew 11-15 then some Advent sermons then back to Exodus...

What if preachers had to feed their congregations Sunday by Sunday with the nourishment the Lord's been providing for them personally?

Now obviously the Lord might be thrilling our hearts with the next chapter of our assigned reading.  And so often I've had the experience of finding a 'new favouite chapter' of the bible as I've studied the passage for that Sunday.

But still.   And granting that hobby-horse-preaching can also mask spiritual morbidity, I just wonder...

If lectio continua was banned, might it not show a thousand preachers to be empty, barren and dry as dust?

Just asking


0 thoughts on “Lectio continua – a hiding place for the spiritually arid?

  1. Pingback: Would Your Spiritual Life Nourish others? « lukefourteenthirtythree

  2. Heather

    Interesting question.

    Full-context preaching leaves a lot less room for interpretive contortions, for sure. But I think I know what you mean about the way spiritual life might be stifled if things don't occasionally get upended and dusted off.

    Our fellowship recently took a break from the standard pattern and we've had a few weeks where the speaker was free to address a topic that's been on his heart and to engage listeners in a less formalized manner.

    It's been refreshingly different, yet still edifying, and allowed for learning interaction that typical preaching doesn't. Now we're heading into Colossians...

  3. codepoke

    Um. yeah. Maybe the two of you who still do this might be found to be mere mortals. Maybe.

  4. Glen

    Hey Heather - yeah just wondering if we'd all have something to say to a congregation each week if our lectionary / preaching programme didn't prescribe it. But - hey - when Colossians is in the pipeline, who can argue with following the script!!

    Code - :D This is one of my favourite comments ever. Especially cos I know how mad our two guys are gonna get - me speaking out of turn and all...

  5. Heather

    just wondering if we’d all have something to say to a congregation each week if our lectionary / preaching programme didn’t prescribe it.

    I think you ought to find out

    Betcha could do it. :D

  6. Dave K

    I suppose my response would be that its not all about the preacher.

    It maybe where the preacher is itching at the moment... who cares about that? What about the congregation?

    Certainly if there is one thing I've learnt about conversation its that sharing what is exciting ME at any moment in time is often not the most helpful thing. Much better to listen to people and respond with the commands and the promises that they need to hear (dry as they are in your mouth as you say them).

    There is some kind of belief going around that if the preacher is not FEELING the truth of what he is saying then the congregation cannot benefit. Or conversely that if only the preacher got things exactly right spiritually/oratorically etc then lives will be changed and people transformed. On the contrary, if the word is preached then it will not return empty. Preacher's personal relationship with Christ is ESSENTIAL to good preaching, but not how they are feeling on that day about that particular passage. Its much more about long-term Spirit formed character, that enables people to preach the word faithfully.

    That's my initial thoughts.

  7. Heather

    Dave K
    I suppose my response would be that its not all about the preacher.

    Certainly, it would be foolish to veer into the "worshiptainment/personality cult" bypath. Tossing out all semblance of order is incredibly dangerous.

    But there are times when the Spirit prompts people to set aside our prefabricated schedules and rituals as He works.

    Certainly if there is one thing I’ve learnt about conversation its that sharing what is exciting ME at any moment in time is often not the most helpful thing.

    There is truth in this statement. The opposite can also be true. Sometimes what a person feels compelled to talk about is exactly what another needs to hear. I suppose it depends on who's doing the prompting?

  8. Chris E

    What makes you think it's a hiding place for the spiritually arid?

    "Now obviously the Lord might be thrilling our hearts with the next chapter of our assigned reading. And so often I’ve had the experience of finding a ‘new favouite chapter’ of the bible as I’ve studied the passage for that Sunday."

    Doesn't that just sound like God being faithful through times when you are spiritually arid?

  9. John B

    I wonder what would happen if a law was passed banning lectio continua.

    Widespread civil disobedience.

    I'm all for lectio continua, but I like the lectionary for the liturgical year even more. Why not have both? Liturgical lectionary on the Lord's Day, and lectio continua on Sunday night and mid-week. A small church with a single service each week can still make use of this approach. About half of the liturgical year is Ordinary Time, which could be used for lectio continua. Even during the dedicated church seasons, it'd be suitable to preach on the readings for the Gospels, Epistles, Psalms or Old Testament, as well as alternate readings for the date.

    And yes, some of the finest sermons that I've heard was when the preacher was led by the Spirit to deviate from the script.

    There are some churches that seem to take pride in how long they can continue to preach from the same book. But I fear that we can get lost in the trees and miss the forest. A Bible study is better suited to this long term depth, rather than the worship service.

    (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21) Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.

  10. The Orange Mailman

    Hey Glen-

    About a year and a half ago, I began attending a church where the preacher preaches straight out of what God has been saying to him through the scriptures each and every week. It was an interesting change at first. He definitely believes what he is preaching, every single week.

    The problem, though, is that there are a few key places that he likes to read for his devotionals. After a year and a half, I've found that he is receiving his inspiration from the same places. I know he reads through the entire scriptures, but the places he preaches from are the same. But I have a pretty good memory too.

    When I began teaching at the previous church we were attending, a wise old retired missionary told me that curriculum was an excellent tool. When someone attends a program for say, two years, you want them to be able to have an overall knowledge of the scriptures. If every week the teacher comes in thinking, "I feel like teaching on ____", when will the class ever get to hear about some of the more difficult texts in scriptures. For instance, when was the last time the preacher preached out of.... ohhh.... say.... Zephaniah???

    I think the real challenge is for a preacher to take the _entire_ scriptures and make them come alive, even when they personally don't need the challenge. The preacher's responsibility is to shepherd the congregation and give them an overall knowledge of God's Word. I heard someone say one time that the book of Numbers was kind of boring. I waited a minute and thought. Then I said, "You know it's kind of hard to understand the real meaning of John 3:16 without the book of Numbers."

    Have fun and stay busy - Luke 19:13

    -The Orange Mailman

  11. Glen

    Perhaps to borrow a phrase of Churchill's regarding democracy - Lectio continua is the worst kind of preaching except all the others that have been tried.

    I'll admit that the issue of spiritual dryness is there whatever your preaching methods. I was just reflecting that lectio continua can mask it better than most. It looks like you're preaching the whole counsel of God when you can get away with reading 50 chapters of the bible all year and a couple of BST commentaries. And I just wonder how many in these kinds of circles do little more than that.

    Dave's issue of speaking to people what they most need rather than what's most in you is very interesting. I might return to that.

    But gotta run...

  12. Dave K

    Hi Heather,

    As usual, I don't think I can disagree. Also as usual, I probably overstated my case.


    Its a fair criticism you're making I guess, and I think your Churchillesk comment is probably spot on.

    I wonder what you're going to say about my 'issue'... I really don't know what you'd say....

  13. Heather

    Dave K

    I wasn't picking on you. I enjoy reading comments that make me more closely examine my own position.

    Can we still be friends? :)

  14. Chris E

    "I’ll admit that the issue of spiritual dryness is there whatever your preaching methods. I was just reflecting that lectio continua can mask it better than most. It looks like you’re preaching the whole counsel of God when you can get away with reading 50 chapters of the bible all year and a couple of BST commentaries."

    Or 50 passages and a subscription to bibleworks, with a liberal application of 'argument weak, yell like hell'. Which is why I don't think picking individual passages gets around this, it'll either be via some other system, or the personal prejudices of the pastor concerned.

    God is often still pleased to feed his people through the ostensibly weak means of the spiritually arid pastor.

  15. Dave K

    Heather... I don't mind disagreement as I've got used to being wrong. Of course we can still be friends!

  16. Heather

    Of course we can still be friends!


    Although, I wouldn't necessarily say your thought was so much wrong as incomplete. We can look at my comment as a complement to what you said rather than an outright argument against it.

    Come to think of it, I'm on schedule myself to receive correction for something pretty soon...


  17. codepoke

    Are you sure spiritual dryness is "an issue?" I mean, don't get me wrong I know it's an inconvenience and all sorts of artifice have been invented to accomodate its unwelcome presence, but is it really an issue? Every human has to juggle a lot of balls, and sometimes it's recreation that falls, sometimes it's work, sometimes it's spritual connection with God. It's human and it's no worse than the flu.

  18. Glen

    Hi Chris – absolutely (as the 2nd Helvetic confession says) the preaching of the word of God is the word of God - even if the preacher be *evil*. But obviously that’s not ideal – especially not for the preacher themselves.

    And being a preacher myself I think that’s more my focus in this post. My concern in this post is not so much with the congregation being fed as for preachers maintaining a vital walk with Jesus and the dangers of us kidding ourselves.

    Hi Code - I think spiritual dryness is both to be completely expected and to be completely fought against with the gift of Jesus in the gospel. I am naturally (in my flesh) dry as dust and cold as ice to the Lord. And there's no use beating myself up about that. But there's every motivation in scripture to warm my heart by the fires of the gospel that I might serve the LORD with gladness, rejoice in the Lord always, never be lacking in zeal, etc, etc.

    Hi Dave - I've been really struck in the last couple of years by how often the Lord has shared something with me just hours before it's been a vital truth for someone else in my life to learn. I think our heart-to-hearts work best when we're sharing what's vital to us in the moment. Now this must never trump our swiftness to listen and slowness to speak. And there's discernment involved - the intricacies of the wave offering might not always be most useful (but then again, they might!).

    So often what a situation needs - after a lot of listening and love and commitment to practical help and prayer - is a grander perspective. And sometimes something from left field is just the ticket.

    I've also been struck in the last year or two by how often I naturally say what I think will play well in a given situation and how often that motivated by fear of men. I think I used to conceive of pastoral care as trying to say the thing that would be received best by the other person (which makes clarevoyance the key to counselling!) - rather than the thing that the Spirit is most laying on my heart in the moment.

    We're probably not saying hugely different things and our practice of it might be nigh on identical. But the emphasis that's striking me more and more at the moment is on giving from what the Lord's teaching us more than in calculating what's might be best received.

    What do you think?

  19. Dave K

    Hi Glen,

    You're right. I hope we're not saying hugely different things because I like what you describe. I suspect I am temperamentally someone who holds back from speaking more than you, although I don't think that is always a good thing. Often it is because I feel I have nothing to say commensurate with what has been told to me. I also suspect that I learn vital new truths less often than you, and am insufficiently confident of the universal applicability of the Gospel. Authenticity, relationship and character also counts for a lot, and can cover over a multitude of misspoken words - and what I described could prevent those things happening. Confidence in the Gospel and the Holy Spirit's inspiration TOGETHER with love, wisdom and listening is probably a good mix for speaking in all situations. I can see quite a few week spots in that sentence for me!

    As I said to Heather. I probably overstated my point. Thankful to hear and learn from your experiences too.

  20. Ed Eubanks

    I'm a little late to this one; sorry, Glen.

    Nevertheless, I'll add my two shekels'…

    First, I agree with Orange Mailman about the likelihood that this would more often result in the same several (or maybe the same few dozen) texts preached every time. One of the advantages of Lectio Continua is that it promises a higher likelihood for variation than mere topical preaching— at least, in a best-case scenario.

    Second, I wonder if this is a false dichotomy? As a pastor, I find that much of my devotional time is spent in sermon preparation— and the devotional time in my text is regularly where the Lord will reveal useful appllication. That doesn't mean that my spiritual disciplines are dry (though of course they could bear improvement), but that maybe we need to approach preaching as if it actually speaks to the preacher as well…?

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